Sunday, February 24, 2013

Barcelona, Spain--Cycling Tour (Part 1)

The start of a real adventure. Christine has chosen her bike and has been fitted. All we are waiting for now is the tour guide's command of  "Saddle up".
Better to be said up front so as not to distract from the sights of the tour. The "real adventure" was dodging traffic, crowded streets, pedestrians, tourists (more dangerous than pedestrians), narrow streets, impatient motorists, loosing sight of the guide, and street lights separating us from the group. Which way did they go?
 This, and the next few shots are part of the staging area. In the situation as described above, there was absolutely no way to "point and shoot" as we rode. All pictures were from a group stopping area.

 Barcelona has a population of 4.6 million, of which half were downtown that day.
Placa Ramon Berenguer El Gran
Not far from our staging area was the statue of Ramon Berenguer III, a prominent Catalan ruler. Background: A ruined section of the medieval Royal Palace and the remains from the ancient Roman walls.
 Part of the Palau Reial (Royal Palace)
It is widely believed that it was on the steps fanning out from the corner of the square that King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella greeted Columbus when he arrived home from his first voyage to the New World. Some dispute the story, noting that the royal couple was probably at their summer residence when Columbus returned. But the locals like the story, so we'll stick to it.

If you don't want to buy into the above story, then these are the steps leading to the Salo del Tinell and the Chapel of St. Agatha. The Salo del Tinell occupies the interior of the 11th century edifice and the Chapel of St. Agatha was designed to act as the royal chapel.
Octagonal tower of the Chapel of St. Agatha.
Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia. Sometimes just called "La Catedral", the Gothic church, begun in 1298 is built on the site of a Roman temple and houses the tomb of Saint Eulalia, the first patron saint of
Torre Mirador del Rei Marti--a "medieval skyscraper" which people may climb and enjoy views of the entire Barri Gothic. Built as a watchtower, it is also called King Martin's Watchtower.

The constant contrast of old and new makes Barcelona a great tourist place. If one has not guessed by now, this is part of the Picasso Museum.  
 Wish I had aimed a little lower with the camera. The narrow streets were VERY interesting on a bicycle.
 We stopped briefly at the Baroque church built in the 18th century. Sant Felip Neri was built on the site of an ancient Jewish cemetery.
Of interest also, the facade still has many bullet holes from the time of the Spanish Civil War. A bomb fell and killed 20 children who were seeking shelter inside it.
On a more pleasant note, we stopped at Placa Reial (Royal Square) in the Barri Gothic Quarter. Many tourists walk here since there are many shops, street artists, and galleries. Of note in the square and streets is one of the first commissioned works of the famous Barcelonian, Gaudi--the lamp posts.
The Gothic Quarter is the oldest part of Barcelona, and we will leave Christine soaking up the culture and resting up for the remainder of the bike tour.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Monte Carlo (Monaco)

 Monte Carlo, Monaco

Apropos that the coast line is a golden hue. Monaco has the richest population per capita in the world. 
Perched over the Mediterranean Ocean, Monaco is a picturesque country. With very high prices, most travelers can afford to spend only one day in this gathering place for the rich. Thus, we were going to stay one day.

We had chosen a walking tour of Monte Carlo. I chose this picture of the journey up into the city because the real path to this point was a bunch of steep steps. Even though it was a sunny 77 degrees, it was a real workout. 
The views made the climb easier to bear.
We think this beauty is Princess Stephanie's private home. Nice little bungalow, and the average price of real estate is just $65,600 per square metre. 

Front facade of Saint Nicholas Cathedral. 

Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly were married in this cathedral in 1956.

One of our tour destinations--the Prince's Palace of Monaco. The Prince's Palace is the official home of Prince Albert II, son of Prince Rainier and Princess Grace. Of interest also, in the wing behind the trees is the residence of Princess Caroline the sister of Albert.  

Princess Caroline is very active in civic affairs but is over-shadowed by Prince Albert. The flag over the Sainte-Marie Tower is flown whenever Prince Albert II is in residence. To the right is Albert I's clock tower in white stone.

The famous panorama of La Condamine, the second oldest district in Monaco known for its distinctive wide harbor and moored yachts.
Changing of the Palace guards. We will just show the sequence of the changing without comment.

The courtyard is guarded 24/7 but the formal changing of the guard happens at 11:55 a.m. everyday. We were there at noon that day but our good fortune was not being hungry. One person stated that he spent $75 for a meal in a Mexican restaurant in Monte Carlo.
 Christine was quite pleased with the changing of the guard ceremony.
 After the Palace, we were taken to the "rich" section of town where we could wander around on our own or be escorted back to the ship by the guide.
 The Hotel de Paris established in 1864. It is part of the elite Palace Grand Hotels in Monaco. Why do travelers stay only one day in Monte Carlo? An inside courtyard room is around $636. If you want a room with a view--$831. (No, we did not see a Motel 6 in Monte Carlo).

THE Casino of Monte Carlo.

The world-famous Casino Monte Carlo, the gambling center which has made Monte Carlo "an international byword for the extravagant display and reckless dispersal of wealth." A lot of the wealth is dispersed to Monaco as the Casino put the small country back into financial wealth long ago.
The casino is featured in the James Bond films Never Say Never Again and Golden Eye. To Catch a Thief was an Alfred Hitchcock film with Monte Carlo and the famous casino as the setting and featured Cary Grant and the future Princess Grace of Monaco as the stars. Incidentally, there is a scene in the movie where the then Grace Kelly drives a car very quickly--and dangerously--along the steep winding roads of Monaco that surround the height of Monte Carlo, an interesting coincidence to her actual fate in 1982.

This is as close to the casino as I would let Christine go. Can't be too careful.
So I tried to distract her by some pretty flowers nearby.
Nearly perfect bloom.
There were a series of fountains and gardens that fronted the casino.
The rich and famous Family Dollar Store.
The Chanel Store. 
Members only gambling salon.
Talk about exclusive--in case you can't read the sign--billionaire Sunset Lounge. That says it all.
Hey, look what I spotted. Bring your own toys to Monte Carlo. They are checking into the Fairmont Hotel (only $900 for one night).
Not a problem for these travelers. A Bianchi bicycle starts at $5,000.
On the way back to the ship. Doesn't this just make you want to don your snorkeling gear and jump in?
A tribute to Formula One racing. Every year Monte Carlo hosts the Monaco Grand Prix on the tiny streets of the city. Besides tiny streets, there are elevation changes and tight corners making the race a dangerous one. It has been held since 1929.

This looks like one of the yachts from a James Bond film.
And here is James Bond parachuting onto the yacht to rescue a maiden in danger.
All of the hob-knobbing with the rich and famous made us want to dress up for dinner.
Even I washed behind my ears. 
 And then we topped off the night by attending a performance in the theater. Ah, luxury is great.